The Palo Alto Police Department often receives reports from alert residents notifying us of real estate rental scams they found on the Internet. This scam is occurring nationally and is not unique to Palo Alto. For these scams, the suspects use photographs of houses that are legitimately listed for sale in Palo Alto and then create false advertisements saying the homes are for rent. Their goal is to steal your money by obtaining a "security deposit" and/or "first month's rent" via check or wire transfer. The suspects typically claim to be out of the country and say that while there may be a "For Sale" sign on the property, they have recently taken the house off the market.
To avoid being a victim of this scam, please visit the property you're interested in renting prior to sending a security deposit anywhere. If there is a "For Sale" sign in the front yard, please contact the realtor to confirm the status of the property. If there is no "For Sale" sign, an Internet search of the property may show if it is legitimately listed for sale. Another indicator of a scam is if the property is being offered for rent at a rate that is significantly lower than other rental properties in the area. Finally, if you are unable to get in contact with the owner to have them show you the property, it is likely a scam.
If you are aware of these scams, please report it immediately to the website where you initially found the property advertised.
If you become a victim of this scam and have actually sent the suspect money, please report it to the Palo Alto Police Department by coming to the lobby during normal business hours. An officer will take a report and ask you a few questions. Please be prepared to provide the following information to the officer taking your report.
Website address where you found the property advertised.
Method of communication between you and the suspect.
Copies of all e-mails correspondence between yourself and the suspect. The e-mails should include e-mail headers.